Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mittal Patel - Empowering Indian Villages, Strengthening the Idea of India

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on - John F. Kennedy"
I watched TEDx talks given by Mittal Patel, Shree Bose, and Arunachalam Muruganantham and all these were inspirational and motivating, to say the least. However, I chose to write about Mittal Patel's cause.

Because she is a woman working in the villages and myself being from a village, I know how hard it is for a woman to change mindsets.

"The Wildlife Protection Act protected snakes but what happened to snake-charmers? Nobody knows!", says Mittal Patel in one of her TEDx talks. She took up the task of empowering poor villagers in a distant corner of otherwise affluent Gujarat. And she fought her battle real well.

Mittal Patel at a TEDx Event

She helped nomadic and de-notified tribes of Gujarat to get recognition from the Government. It took her quite some time to do so but she never gave up. In between she fought against two of the deadliest enemies of the idea of India; bureaucracy and caste-system. She bridged the gap which was actually duty of the government. She is a journalist by profession and she did what a journalist is supposed to do; never give up until justice is served.

She even rescued village girls from the clutches of prostitution, which they believed was the only thing they could do.

I can easily relate to her story because in Himachal too nomadic tribes and naive villagers are often taken for a ride by the cunning politicians and bureaucrats. Even nomadic tribes living in the remotest regions of Himachal Himalayas are not given Schedule Tribe status. In the name of constructing roads, they are shown global warming and deforestation warnings. It doesn't matter if they walk 20 kilometers just to reach the nearest school.

We were told that India resides in its villages. It does even today. Just that we all have turned a blind eye towards our villages. Let me tell you a story in this regard.

Pong Dam Kids returning from School
Pong Dam was built in the year 1974. It generates 360 MW of energy which lights up millions of houses in the state of Punjab. Those living in the wetland region were given compensation money and land as well. Money always lives a short life but land outlives every other material possession. However, the then government played smart and awarded these Himalayan natives a piece of land in Yamunanagar (Rajasthan). 
Imagine, someone from the foothills of the Himalayas settling down in a furnace called YamunaNagar!
Those people obviously refused to leave. The power plant became functional. Millions of households were lighted in Punjab. And a village of 27 families was pushed into darkness. They continued to live in their village, which was soon surrounded by the largest man made lake of India. Decades have passed since then, the Pong Dam has generated tremendous amounts of energy; lighting lives across the country. 
Yet, 27 families live in the darkness, just a couple of miles away from the Pong Dam. They have no roads and boating isn't a fashionable hobby there; it's a necessity to get in and out of the village. 
And above all, they have no voice. They live in the darkness, even today. 
I think we need Mittal Patel in each and every village of India. And these stories need to be told because positivity too is sometimes contagious. You never know when someone might stand up for a cause and marks the beginning of a new tradition. What Mittal Patel did in Gujarat needs to be done in every village of our country. If we want the Idea of India to be implemented well, we need to empower our villages. Just what Mittal Patel did.

I have known TEDx talkers (Jodie Underhill & Akram Feroze) and I also volunteered for the TEDx Dharamshala event in the past. I know how it feels to be in the presence of the 'doers' who unlike most of us believe in the art of converting speech into actions.
This is my entry for Indiblogger with Franklin Templeton Investments that partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. 

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